Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, for ages was in the shadow of Madrid, Spain’s political capital, and Barcelona, the country’s cultural and economic powerhouse. No more. Stunning public buildings have changed the city – the Palacio de Congresos, the award-winning Veles i Vents structure beside the port, and the grandest of all, the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencas. An increasingly popular short-break venue, Valencia is a vibrant, friendly, mildly chaotic place with two outstanding fine-arts museums, an accessible old quarter, Europe’s newest cultural and scientific complex – and some of Spain’s most exciting nightlife.
Retired Roman legionaries founded ‘Valentia’ on the banks of Río Turia in 138 BC. Later, the Arabs made Valencia an agricultural and industrial centre, establishing ceramics, paper, silk and leather industries and extending the network of irrigation canals in the rich agricultural hinterland. Muslim rule was interrupted in 1094 by the triumph of the legendary Castilian knight El Cid. Much later, the Christian forces of Jaime I retook the city in 1238. Valencia’s golden age was the 15th and early 16th centuries, when the city was one of the Mediterranean’s strongest trading centres. There followed a gradual decline, relieved in the 19th century by industrialisation and the development of the citrus trade to northern Europe.
From the 15–19 of March Las Fallas, Valencia City’s wild spring festival, brings more than 2 million visitors to town.
From the 22 to 24 April at Alcoy’s Moros y Cristianos fiesta, warriors engage in mock battle.
Get into the historical spirit of Cartagena during the annual Carthagineses y Romanos festival.
Valencia Airport is about 9 kilometres from the city centre. A bus (Metrobus) to Plaza de Espana departs every 25 minutes and takes about 30-40 minutes (1.45 EUR). The metro goes directly to the town centre and links the airport to the main train station, Estacion del Norte (beside Xativa metro stop), running every 8 minutes and taking about 20 minutes. The ticket card itself cost 1 EUR, and the fare from Airport (zone D) to Xativa metro (Zone A) cost 3.90 EUR (you can save money by walking to the next station, Rosas, from where the centre can be reached for 2.10 EUR because it is in zone B).
A taxi ride from the airport to Calle de La Paz, in the heart of the historic city centre about 11kilometres away costs about 19 EUR with an additional “airport supplement” of around 4 EUR. The same journey back from Calle de La Paz to the airport is half the price!
Trains come from Madrid (Alaris), Barcelona (Euromed or ARCO), and many other cities. The main train station, Estacion del Norte, is in the center of the city, near the Town Hall. Travel time by train from Barcelona Sants is about 3 hours and 30 minutes while from Madrid by AVE (high speed rail) is 1 hour and 33 minutes.
The national train company is RENFE. Tickets can be booked online. The cheap tourist class tickets are often sold out, travelers on a budget should book their tickets some couple of days in advance.
Driving is also always an option for long distance travel in Spain, but isn't as convenient or as useful once in town.
There are also many buses coming from almost every big city in Spain and most of the cities in the Valencia region. The bus station is located by the river in Valencia, about 15 minutes’ walk from the centre.
For train and bus transport it is possible to buy bonos in kiosks and tobacco shops. Both Bonobus (6 EUR) and Bonometro (6.55 EUR for one zone and is also available at ticket machines) allow for 10 rides. If you want to use two lines to reach your destination, you have to use a B-T (which costs 7 EUR).
Renting a bike is an increasingly popular way for visitors to explore this essentially flat city. Since 2010 the city offers public bicycle rentals at over 250 locations around the city (and growing). This service is called Valenbisi. For 14 EUR you get access to unlimited use of the bikes for seven days, the first half hour is free, then 1 EUR every 30 minutes extra. You can purchase the ticket at any terminal at the stations.
Aside from going to the beach and the City of Arts and Sciences, exploring the hub of the city requires no public transportation. Much of this city can be done walking. It's not necessary to have the mindset of mastering a complex public transportation system.
The Metro Valencia consists of five lines (from which one is a tramway to the beach) and connects the suburbs with the city. As of Apr 2013, the one-way fare for one zone is 1.50 EUR. The ticket itself costs an additional 1 EUR and contains a rechargeable chip. This metro system is not extensive, but can get you to major points within the city. If you want to take the tram, you have to buy a ticket from the machine, then validate it, before you get on.
If you use the metro a lot, you should consider getting a Bonometro (see above), or a one-, two- or three-day pass, which can be quite economical. For just over 22 EUR, you can ride for 72 hours on the metro and tram as much as you like during that time; a bonus is that if you buy a ticket at, for instance, 4pm on a Monday, it will expire not on Wednesday night, but at 4pm Thursday.
Ciudad de las Artes Y las Ciencas - The aesthetically stunning City of Arts and Sciences (book online at www.cac.es; combined ticket for Oceanogràfic, Hemisfèric & Museo de las Ciencias adult/child 32.90/25 EUR) occupies a massive 350,000 square metre section of the old Turia riverbed. It’s the work of world-famous, local-born architect Santiago Calatrava. Take bus 35 from Plaza del Ayuntamiento or bus 95 from Torres de Serranos or Plazade América.
Oceanogràfic (aquarium) - adult/child 24.90/18.80 EUR and it is open 10am-6pm or 8pm. For most families with young children this is the highlight of a visit to Valencia’s City of Arts & Sciences. The aquariums hold enough water to fill 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools. There are polar zones, a dolphinarium, a Red Sea aquarium, a Mediterranean seascape – and a couple of underwater tunnels, one 70 metres long.
Hemisfèric (IMAX cinema) - adult/child 7.85/6.10 EUR. The Hemisfèric is at once planetarium, IMAX cinema and laser show. Optional English soundtrack for all films.
Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe (science museum) - adult/child 7.85/6.10 EUR and it is open 10am-7pm or 9pm. This interactive science museum, set within the City of Arts and Sciences, has plenty of interactive activities for children and machines and displays for all ages. Each section has a pamphlet in English summarising its contents.
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía – sitting over the riverbed like a giant beetle, its shell shimmering with mosaic tiles, this ultramodern arts complex, grafted onto the City of Arts and Sciences, has four auditoriums. With seating for 4400, it’s exceeded in capacity only by the Sydney Opera House.
For both the Bioparc and Museo de Historia de Valencia, take bus 7, 81 or 95 or get off at the Nou d’Octubre metro stop.
Bioparc - Avenida Pio Baroja 3; adult/child 24/17 EUR and open from 10am-dusk. This is an innovative, ecofriendly and gently educational space where wild animals apparently roam free.
Museo de Historia de Valencia – set on Calle Valencia 42; adult/child 2/1 EUR and open from 10am to 7pm Tuesday-Saturday and 10am-3pm Sunday. This museum is very hands-on and with plenty of film and video, plots more than 2000 years of the city’s history. Ask to borrow the museum’s informative folder in English.
The Barri del Carme neighborhood is in the old center. It is the perfect place for a stroll where you can witness the transition from a forgotten area to an up-and-coming diverse neighborhood. Barri del Carme has many outdoor cafes and trendy shops.
Valencia Cathedral (The Seu). A curious cathedral with doors from three distinct architectural periods. The building as a whole, though mostly Gothic, has collected over the centuries some Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical elements. A trip up the Micalet tower (formerly Moorish, but now “Christianised”) provides a pleasing view of the city.
The La Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) This building is the site of the ancient local silk trade. It is also a UNESCO landmark and has recently been refurbished. Some of the gargoyles are quite naughty. Contrary to the wealth of material published by the tourism industry touting this to be the "best preserved late gothic/renaissance building in Spain", in fact only the interior of this building is original. A visit to the Silk Exchange to see the beautiful interior vaulting should still be on everyone's itinerary in Valencia, but doubt claims as to the “Gothicness” of the miraculously preserved 500 year old stone carvings.
Torres de Quart, at the end of Calle Quart. This pock-marked medieval tower was part of the ancient wall that surrounded the old city. Another set of nearby towers called the Torres de Serrano were also part of ancient wall. The Serrano towers have been massively renovated and somewhat modernised, but they are still interesting and are located across the street from the park.
Arros (rice) underwrites much of Valencian cuisine – such as paella, first simmered here and exported to the world.
Local paella - there are several versions of this tasty rice dish: Paella Valenciana, with meat (chicken and/or rabbit usually), Paella de Marisco, with fish or seafood, or even Paella Mixta, with meat and fish at the same time, the least popular amongst locals. It is very difficult to say which is the “real” paella, as everyone has their own version. If you want to eat authentic paella, try it at the Malvarrosa beach area; you will find there are several good restaurants. The authentic Valencian paella is made only with fresh ingredients, in a special iron pan and using a fire made with wood (not gas or electricity). Vegetarian paella is called "Paella vegetal" or "Paella de verduras".
Arros a banda and arros negre - This rice is black because it contains squid ink. You can find these dishes at the same places as above.
Fideua, a paella-like dish, with short noodles and fish, was invented in the Gandia and Denia area (Alicante) and can be usually found in paella restaurants. It deserves a try too.
All i pebre is made of eel, a snake like fish typical from the Albufera, a lagoon near Valencia. You can drive to El Palmar and taste it there. Delicious, but a very special taste. You can find good paella, and other traditional dishes at the restaurants here too.
Llet merengada - A kind of milk-based soft ice cream with a cinnamon-lemon taste.
Bunyols - Fried doughnuts, sometimes round shaped, sometimes like rings. Widely available only during March. Dip them in hot chocolate. Sometimes they are too oily, so don't eat a lot of them or you will not be hungry again for several hours. If you can choose the 'carabasa' (pumpkin) version, you should try it. They are generally tastier.
Other regional specialities include horchata, an opaque sugary drink made from pressed chufas (tiger nuts), into which you dip large finger-shaped buns called – fartons. Finally, despite its name, Agua de Valencia couldn’t be further from water. The local take on Buck’s Fizz, it mixes cava (sparkling Champagne-method wine), orange juice, gin and vodka.
Calle de La Paz is the main shopping street and has both designer and high street covered.
But the jewel in Valencia’s crown is Mercado Central (Plaza del Mercado, open 7.30am-3pm Monday-Saturday). A visit to this magnificent covered central market is a must, even if you only browse. It is one of Europe’s biggest and oldest indoor markets with more than 1,500 stalls.
The publication La Turia is a detailed weekly guide in Spanish on sale at kiosks and newsagents. 24-7 Valencia and In VLC are free monthlies. Both are available in tourist offices and selected bars and clubs and give a good run-down on Valencia’s entertainment and nightlife scene. Most clubs have admission prices (8 EUR to 20 EUR), so keep an eye out for discounted passes, carried by many local bars.
As Valencia is a business hub, the biggest hotels struggle to fill rooms outside the working week. Most offer big weekend and high-summer discounts and staying in or near Old Town means you will hardly need to use transport.
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